When You Call My Name

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Originally published on January 8, 2015.

By the end of the day it feels like a tangible knot inside…that growing heap of small worries and what-ifs, the prickling irritations of things gone wrong, the ruffled feathers of getting along, and the nagging list of tasks left undone. Each one wasn’t much at the time, and I told myself that I could handle it, press on, deal with it all some other day (or maybe it will go away on its own if I can ignore it long enough). But even tiny snowflakes can add up to an avalanche, and by evening that pile of little things is enough to crush the heart of a person. And Jesus’ words come in a whisper, clearly and persistently: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) He calls through the noise and the motion, like someone standing on the doorstep knocking, until suddenly I stop to wonder why I would want to ignore this weight of living, when Jesus is telling me to bring it to Him? And how often have I soldiered on, trying my best to manage, when He is offering rest?

I know that Jesus is holding out God’s grace and forgiveness, as a release from the weight of trying to measure up to impossible standards of holiness. I understand that a rabbi’s “yoke” was the sum of his teachings, and that Jesus was calling us to a new way of living, inviting us to follow Him: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” But here at the beginning of a new study group, as we read and focus on prayer, it sinks in that He means it quite literally, as well. Come. Just come here and let it go, dear Child. Every day. Give up anything that is too heavy for you, and let Someone Bigger carry it, and then you can rest.

Knowing He is with me is not the same as addressing Him personally. Believing He can help me is not the same as asking Him for help. And knowing He cares is not the same as giving up my burdens to Him and resting in His love. What I know has to move me to action, if my life is truly going to change. Not sure why I so often fail to take that necessary step towards Him, though I feel sure it has something to do with the Enemy’s battle plan to distract us from God’s greatness.So I bow my head right there, in the middle of running from one thing to the next, and I tell Jesus about every one of those small weighty things, put into words why they trouble me and ask Him to take care of each one. And suddenly it is easier to breathe.

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On my bed I remember You;
    I think of You through the watches of the night.
 Because You are my help,
    I sing in the shadow of Your wings.
 I cling to You;
    Your right hand upholds me.

Psalm 63:6-8

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If you have not much time at your disposal, do not fail to profit by the smallest portions of time which remain to you. We do not need much time in order to love God, to renew ourselves in His Presence, to lift up our hearts towards Him, to worship Him in the depths of our hearts, to offer Him what we do and what we suffer.

Francois de la Mothe Fenelon

On Choosing Celebration and Finding Joy

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Originally published April 21, 2012.

I am reading through Paul’s letter to the Philippians at night, in a thick hardbound edition of The Message.  I love the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases Paul’s letters in fresh energetic language that jumps off the page with the sheer force of the writer’s personality.  I picture Paul a lot that way: colorful, energetic, passionate  and driven about his message to the point of being offensive at times….tact was clearly not his strong suit.  But then, when you are an itinerant preacher spreading the good news of salvation to the bulk of the civilized world in the first century, there are more pressing concerns than being “nice.”

I have been parked in chapter 4 for the past few nights.  The middle of that chapter is one of my very favorite “how to live” passages of Scripture anyway, but this week I have been captivated by the way Peterson phrases it: “Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! “  I can picture PauI leaning forward, eyes alight.  His is the voice of experience– in a life without any of the comforts we prefer on a daily basis, he has discovered an ever-flowing fountain of joy, and urges his readers to search it out. Revel in God and there will be no more room for self-pity, or despair, or even run-of-the-mill grumpiness on general principles.  Celebrate the infinite God and you’ll never run out of joy, never come to the end of Him.

We are used to following our feelings, paying attention to them and letting them move us through life…it is the pattern of this world that we have conformed to since birth.  Has it never occurred to us that a woman’s hurt feelings are what got us into this mess to begin with?  And the more we follow our feelings the more mixed up our minds get.  What a surprise to Self to discover that God is far more concerned with our obedience than with our comfort.

No wonder most of Scripture’s practical how-to passages are teaching us how to stop listening to the feelings of Self and instead listen to the Spirit of God, be transformed by the renewing of the mind.  Think first, choose how to respond, then act in a way that pleases God, and the feelings will follow.

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.  Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” 

Philippians 4:6-7

I come back to this over and over, transfixed by that last line.  When I follow my feelings– focus on them and act out of them– I am putting them at the center of my life, making them an idol, letting them control me.  Worry?  Discouragement?  Fear?  Anger?  No good can come from following where they lead.

Choose to do this instead, Paul says… choose to offer up those feelings to the One who made them and put Him in the center of your life where He belongs.  Do this… choose this…it’s an act of the will, an act of obedience.  Let your mind be transformed by Jesus and lead you to what is right, and let the feelings tag along behind.  Paul even leaves me pointers on what to think about if I want a transformed mind– if I want to follow Christ instead of these tyrants of emotion: “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” (Philippians 4:8)

Simply put, I live best when I fill my mind with God’s truth… all He has done for me, all that He is… thankfulness and praise taking the lead.  It’s an every day kind of choice, and some days every minute.  So I keep coming back to Paul’s letter to the Philippians, soaking the reminders in, deep down to the heart.   It’s the best prescription there is for getting emotions back on track.

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When my soul is in the dumps, I rehearse
    everything I know of You,
From Jordan depths to Hermon heights,
    including Mount Mizar.
Chaos calls to chaos,
    to the tune of whitewater rapids.
Your breaking surf, Your thundering breakers
    crash and crush me.
Then God promises to love me all day,
    sing songs all through the night!
    My life is God’s prayer.

Psalm 42:8, The Message

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Better is a moment that I spend with You
Than a million other days away
I’m running, I’m running
I’m running to the secret place
Hands are lifted high, hearts awake to life
We are satisfied here with You, here with You
Chains will hit the floor, broken lives restored
We couldn’t ask for more here with You, here with You

The Secret Place, Phil Wickham

When The Answer Is No

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(Originally published on March 28, 2015.)

I must have absorbed it by osmosis through the years, this idea that answer to prayer was a synonym for receiving from God what I had asked for. And unanswered prayer somehow became just another way of saying “I haven’t received what I want” I don’t remember being told that, specifically, and if you had asked me I would have said with certainty that God doesn’t always do what we ask of Him. Any praying person figures that out pretty quickly. And yet there it was, that use of the term that implies the only answer that matters is the one we want.

As we study prayer in small groups, we have talked about this particular oddity of church culture, and we have found our understanding of God’s answers widening. God promised His people, “Call to me and I will answer you…” (Jeremiah 33:3) So whatever God gives us in response to our prayers He must consider a sufficient answer, even if sometimes it does not look at all the way we thought it would. Sometimes the answer is a promise for the future; sometimes a charge to repent or take action so that He can bless us; sometimes His tender mercies toward our heartache, or provision for our need; and much to our dismay, quite often His answer is No, my dear child.

Indeed, sometimes when the need is most pressing and it feels as if the world is collapsing around us, still the answer can seem to be No, and hearts can lose their faith in the rubble, unless we can be still and listen to His promise: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) Because when we ask anything of Him, the unspoken question between us is always whether we will trust Him in this, and which we want more– the thing we desire, or more of Him. It is not an easy thing, to say with the Church-Planter Paul, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)

We can blame it on perspective, maybe, because we are very bad at knowing what is good for us, and our prayers reflect both our short-sightedness and our dependency on the world we can taste and touch.  Quite often our prayers are more heartfelt than wise, and we should be glad that the God who lives in Eternity knows what is actually good for us in the long run, knows all things inside and out. As Sheldon Vanauken observed, in his account of love and loss, sometimes our great tragedies are but “a severe mercy” from the hands of a compassionate Father. Job was honest about the impact of his life-changing losses: “For sighing has become my daily food; my groans pour out like water. What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.” (Job 3:24-25) But I wonder, in the long run, whether he would have traded those long dark months of grieving, in light of his glimpse of God’s glory and the wisdom he gained through it. You can’t have one without the other. I heard a preacher say once that God allowed the worst thing he could imagine to happen in his life, because it made him desperate…and desperation brings about transformation. In God’s book, it is always okay to be desperate.

What does it mean in practical terms to pray “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven,” like Jesus taught us to do? That phrase has a ring to it, and it rolls off the tongue very poetically when you are reciting The Lord’s Prayer in a group. But to be able to pray that with face to the earth, in total surrender to the Lord of heaven and earth, requires us to dig deeply into our desires and motives. It’s not the kind of prayer one should pray lightly, without counting the cost. Yet when you think about it, is God’s will not the end goal of all true prayer? If prayer is abiding with Christ and communicating heart-to-heart with Him, then each of our petitions, from the simplest childish request to the deepest struggles of the human heart are a seeking for Him, a crying out for the Father to respond to His children. And every answer He gives (no matter how it comes) is a way to know Him better, a glimpse of His heart and His plans for us. And the more we know His heart, the more we trust Him and embrace His will, till everything in our corner of the world bows in submission and worship, as it does in the heavenly places. With Jesus we will be able to pray, “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) and know that even when the answer is No, God will be there still, and He will be Enough.

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“He must often seem to us to be playing fast and loose with us….And the danger is that when what He means by ‘wind’ appears you will ignore it because it is not what you thought it would be– as He Himself was rejected because He was not like the Messiah the Jews had in mind.”

CS Lewis in a letter to Vanauken

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“‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet My unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor My covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”

 (Isaiah 54:10)

Chasing After Great Things

We’re talking about prayer around the table, and how God invites us to call out to Him. And I feel sure that most of us are thinking of those pressing things we’ve been asking about– maybe feeling relieved to hear that God actually wants us to pour out those needs to His listening heart. But the song lyrics keep running through my head: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for You, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? (Psalm 42:1-2) And it seems to me that all these verses we are reading have more to do with relationship than they do about fixing our problems.

When He says “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for….” (Matthew 7:7), Jesus was talking to hearts that are hungry to be close to God, people who will continue knocking on doors of opportunity to know Him better, who persist in wrestling with the deep questions of life in order to understand them in His light. When we persevere in coming to Him as the needy people that we are, we discover His heart toward us, an abundant flow of grace. This is how the Church-planter could claim “In everything…present your requests to God, and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) And it strikes me how that peace is not a passive feel-good vibe but an active transforming Presence within us. Whatever circumstances are on our hearts, when we answer His invitation to come, He gives us the best answer we could hope for in return– Himself, who is the very Prince of Peace. “Keep on seeking and you will find…” (Matthew 7:7).

This invitation to come near is about taking our eyes off our needs and problems, and instead focusing our minds and hearts on Jesus. He is calling us to long for Him– to leave our cares in His capable hands and pursue relationship with Him. He understands what we need most and is ready to tell us, if we will only learn to come and to listen.

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Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’

Jeremiah 33:3

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How we direct our eyes, minds, hearts, and hands in the everyday will determine who we ultimately worship and what we ultimately become.

Ruth Chou Simons

With You

Some days you just need to sit quietly and remember that there is Someone who loves you best of all, and He is good. Acknowledge all the fears that push to the surface in the quiet of the night. Fully face the emotions that you can ignore by keeping busy. Pour them out before your Father and let Him gather them up in His strong arms…gather you up, and draw you close to His heart that does not change, does not waver in its utter commitment to you.

“The Lord says, ‘I will rescue those who love Me. I will protect those who trust in My name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them. I will reward them with a long life and give them My salvation.’” (Psalm 91:14-16)

Can’t go back to the beginning;
Can’t control what tomorrow will bring;
But I know here in the middle
Is the place where You promise to be.

I’m not enough unless You come–
Will You meet me here again?
‘Cause all I want is all You are–
Will You meet me here again?

As I walk now through the valley,
Let Your love rise above every fear.
Like the sun shaping the shadow,
In my weakness Your glory appears.

Not for a minute
Was I forsaken;
The Lord is in this place,
The Lord is in this place.
Come Holy Spirit–
Dry bones awaken!
The Lord is in this place,
The Lord is in this place.

I’m not enough unless You come–
Will You meet me here again?
‘Cause all I want is all You are–
Will You meet me here again?

Elevation Worship

What Do You Want Most?

You can ask for something and not even realize what it is you really long for. And sometimes the not-getting is as much a discovery and a gift as receiving your heart’s desire. But it takes time to learn all that. Time, and tears, and asking for all the things you want while you wrestle with the things that are. Time and opportunity to see the Savior standing in the middle of your darkness shining His light until you finally realize it’s all the same to Him. And suddenly I remember the Musician-King singing about this very thing “…even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to You.” (Psalm 139:11-12) It takes time to see that if He is standing in the middle, lighting up any dark circumstance, I can be at peace there too. Funny, isn’t that just what the Church-planter Paul has been saying all along? ” Don’t worry about anything….Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

But things like that you only learn from experience, like the Twelve did in their boat on the Sea of Galilee. When you hear with your own ears the Master’s voice commanding the wind and the waves, and see with your own eyes how they obey Him, you know Who is truly in control of all things. When you feel the frightened beating of your own heart, and how everything quiets in His presence, you realize He is fighting for you and you can simply trust like a child. But learning these things takes time, and when needs press the heart, waiting is the last thing we want.

Someone mentioned to me recently that surely God would respond to a person’s faith in asking for healing. Surely there was no lack of faith, and the faithful servant who asked would be better off made whole. Surely God would answer, because He is good. He is certainly that, but maybe it isn’t about faith or healing at all. Maybe it is about something God values even more, because He is perfectly good. Our eyes are only on the outcome we desire, but He is looking at what can happen in the meantime, as we seek His face. His desires for us are “…immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…” (Ephesians 3:20), and there are things He can accomplish in the waiting that turn out to be the healing our hearts need most. I can hang on tightly to what I want– the solution I can figure out myself, and want immediately– or I can relax my grip and turn to look at Jesus’ light, trusting that He is bringing good things in the waiting. Maybe the answers I want will come, and maybe they will not, and it will still be okay because He promised. And I remember the prophet Jeremiah, who wept for his people long ago and could still say: “The Lord is good to those who depend on Him, to those who search for Him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:25-26)

Strengthen my heart to want You most, Lord Jesus. I know that in the end, there’s nothing worth more than having more of You.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!

Matthew 7:9-11

But faith is not measured by our ability to manipulate God to get what we want. It is measured by our willingness to submit to what He wants.

Tricia Lott Williford

Discovering Sabbath

As a kid, I always thought keeping the Sabbath was the boring commandment. It meant that on Sunday we got dressed up and went to church, had a big dinner, took a nap, spent time with family. Good stuff, all of it, but if you were going to pick out ten rules to live by, that one seemed a bit tame– or just downright out-of-place, stuck in there with respecting the name of the Almighty, telling the truth, and not murdering other people. Like maybe we got up to nine big ones, and reached for one more to make an even and memorable ten? But if we do believe that those Ten Commandments actually came from the hand of God Himself, written down as foundational for a nation under His rule, then somehow that guideline for Sabbath is vital, and there is something about a day set apart that God finds precious and necessary. At the very least it should spark our curiosity to understand His intention for Sabbath rest. Maybe it is not until we find ourselves overwhelmed by life…at the mercy of grief…exhausted by what it takes to keep our heads above water… that rest becomes a treasure to seek out, and we begin to understand how very vital it is to a soul’s well-being.

At its heart, Sabbath is a call to come home to the presence of God. It seems self-evident, like we would not need to set aside a whole day just for that purpose, but the very fact that He wanted to write it down for us underscores how easily we forget to simply come. In all our building of a life and pursuing relationships and seeking happiness, the hours of the day fill up fast, and we fall into bed at night exhausted with ourselves. Sabbath woos us to rest. It whispers to stop from all our striving and rest in the goodness of our Provider…to wash the dust of the week away and be refreshed. It gives us space to enjoy simple things like family and naps and long walks and ice cream… to be thankful. It is a kind of re-set for the spirit, a reminder that despite all our day-to-day efforts, the life that matters comes from our connection to Jesus, the Vine.

Sabbath reminds me who I am. It is time and space to pause everything I am doing and just Be. Be loved, be accepted, be forgiven, be fully present with Someone who knows me, and stay long enough to hear the song He is singing over me. In His presence my soul finds rest and healing from battering expectations and anxious thoughts and gnawing insecurities. And when I gather with other Christ-followers I can rest from running against the current of culture for awhile. We can join with like minds and speak the same language of worship and need. And the truth is, I need this breakaway time if I am going to keep on running the faith-race well for another week.

When I really understand Sabbath and its vital importance to my spirit, I know exactly why God wrote it in His Top Ten list. He knew that our weakness was the desire to be self-sufficient, to build a kingdom for self to rule, and how easily we accept the lie that we are enough in ourselves. So God writes it down for us: Set apart a day for Sabbath. In all your busy planning and building, take time to step back and remember that you are created– that you belong to Someone Else and are only one small part of His great big world. Take a day to rest, to be thankful for His provision, to acknowledge that you need His grace, to rejoice in His love for you. “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.” (Psalm 34:8)

Be careful to keep my Sabbath day, for the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between Me and you from generation to generation. It is given so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy.

Exodus 31:13

The Sabbath is not part of a trendy self-help program. It is a part of heaven and a glimpse of God. Sabbath is not one day of vacation a week. It is part of the most solid and tangible time of life. The Sabbath balances the active parts of life with the holy parts. Jesus needed both to be fully human, and so do we.

24/6, Matthew Sleeth

A Place to Call Home

I hear Church-planter Paul making amazing faith declarations, like “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am,” (Philippians 4:12) and I know that this is no small thing, because I’ve read the travel journal he left behind. He spent most of his life uprooted, on the road, hunted down, in pain, cold and hungry. At odds with the culture around him. But still he could think of himself as peaceful and happy, because he had already found a home in God. His heart is on full display in his letters: “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him….” (Philippians 3:8-9)

I know in my spirit that what Paul says is right and true– that Christ is a treasure, worth more than anything else in this world. I also recognize that my heart has a long way to go before it can find joy in every loss, if it means having more of Jesus. But maybe that’s not one big lesson I have to learn all at once. Maybe it is more like countless in-the-moment choices to invite Jesus into my experiences. Maybe it is as simple as accepting His invitation to come live with Him, and do as He says. “Now remain in My love. If you keep My commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commands and remain in His love.” (John 15:9-10) Just come near to Jesus and live there, this one day. Then do it all over again tomorrow. And whenever you wander away– when emotions get bullied by circumstances and thoughts whirl– just turn around and run Home again where you are safe and Someone loves you best of all. We understand that He gives eternal life, but somehow that seems like a far away destination most of the time. We forget that when Jesus talked about being reborn, it was for the here and now. See, eternity isn’t something waiting for after we die. New life begins the moment we ask Him to remake us, when we begin living in the Eternal One. Jesus describes it in gardening terms: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Maybe it is easiest for us to understand when we feel alive and growing, and we can see the fruit He is producing in us. I know how the hard days can blind the heart, so that we rush into instinctive flight…or fight back with whatever is readily on hand. As if we could ever beat back the darkness of this world with more of the same. But the secret Paul learned is that even in times of loss and pain and fear, God’s presence was his refuge, a safe place to run. He wrote in one of his letters, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation… present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) Live with Him, talk to Him, thank Him, expect Him to answer. This is how Jesus wants us to understand His simple everyday invitation, and He promises that when we stay close to Him, our prayers are already worked into God’s plans. When life is difficult, there is no better place to live, to put down roots, than the Source of all comfort and strength and healing. Just keep coming Home with your needs and trust the loving Father to take care of you. The Musician-King set it to music some thousand years before: “Whsoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ ” (Psalm 91:1-2)

Not all of us have known the blessing of a healthy home on this earth, but we all do share that longing. We want to have that commitment to family, day in and day out, until memory overlays memory, all the good and the bad shared by people who love one another, and the place becomes rich with it. We want that comfortable haven where we can be most ourselves, the place we feel accepted and secure, at peace. Sometimes the days are messy and struggling, but we choose to persevere, hold onto faith that it will work out for good. This creates a place to call home, whether we’re taking about a place with walls and a door, or a residence for your spirit. This is what Paul learned day by day: to make his heart’s home in Christ’s presence– through good and bad, obeying what Jesus had taught him and trusting His love. Until after all the years he could say without a shadow of a doubt that it had been worth it. That what he had lost didn’t even matter in light of all that he had gained. And if you think about it, what could you possibly lack when you have an intimate relationship with the God of heaven and earth? Paul’s home was wherever Jesus was, and Jesus had never left him, no matter what strange lands Paul traveled. It was a connection as elemental as a plant rooted and flourishing in a vineyard.

So this is how we begin, simply as children, taking Jesus’ outstretched hand and staying close beside Him one day and then the next. Just keep on coming Home to His presence. In all those small choices– to obey, to trust, to be close to Him– we are growing strong and secure in His love. And someday we will be able to say confidently with Paul, “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

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Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9

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Can’t go back to the beginning;
Can’t control what tomorrow will bring;
But I know here in the middle
Is the place where You promise to be.
I’m not enough unless You come–
Will You meet me here again?
‘Cause all I want is all You are–
Will You meet me here again ?


Not for a minute
Was I forsaken….
The Lord is in this place,
The Lord is in this place.

Here Again, Elevation Worship

Lighthouse People

There were these chalk artists, when I was a little girl, who would come to Summer Camp, or special meetings at church. The lights would dim so that eyes could focus on the easel and the artist’s hands as he laid colors up on that paper, music swelling in the background while he blended and swirled shades together confidently. You could never tell what he was drawing at first, but the skies, the sea, the mountains sprang into existence beneath his touch, and it was obvious the artist knew exactly where he was going with it. It always felt like a small glimpse of Creation, and what it was like for the angels who looked on in the Beginning. Gradually the details sprang up: trees, bushes, waves, birds flying high, until the final focal point of the picture became clear. Often the picture was of a lighthouse on a cliff, looking out over the sea– sometimes stormy, sometimes calm at sunset– and a sailing ship coming into the harbor. The artist would give a Bible lesson about how Jesus guides us to the safe harbor of Heaven, if we watch for His light.

That memory sticks with me, and of course I haven’t out-grown the need to be guided by Jesus’ light, but by now those early lessons are overlaid with many renditions of This Little Light of Mine and the verse I learned in Bible Club about how to shine as children of God: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) Turns out that as we grow up, Christ-followers are being shaped by the Creator’s hands into a lighthouse as well, shining through the darkness to help people find the Way.

And here Paul is, talking about how to live as a child of light, only there is nothing about cliffs and sunsets and strong beacons at sea; he is getting very down-to-earth and ordinary with it. “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure…” (Philippians 2:14-15) Everything? Well that covers a great deal. And without grumbling? Complaining seems like a relatively small thing on the scale of venial sins, but if you ever manage to step out of that river, you realize just how easy it was to get swept into the current. And maybe it has more importance than we realize, because Paul finishes his sentence: “Then you will shine…like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.” (Philippians 2:15-16) See it’s not enough to be relatively better than the rest of the world. I mean just watch the news for an hour, and you can end up feeling smugly secure about yourself, and yet still blend in gray against the backdrop.

No, the way to stand out in the darkness is to become something altogether different– learn to speak a different language from the prevailing flow of words and opinions and values, like the foreigner that you are. If you are a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, it might mean not criticizing all the things that are wrong in this world as if it were a surprise to you (because there is no end to that list) and start giving thanks for all God’s blessings in this world (which are also unending and really are often surprising). It will mean holding firmly to the Living Word who wakened you to eternal life; fixing your eyes on Him and not getting distracted. It will mean giving up grumbling about how difficult life is, for the sake of offering praises to God for His provision and presence with you. Instead of arguing your point, your rights, your opinions on how things should be, deciding to lay down your Self for the good of others the way Jesus did. That is plenty enough to keep you busy, and remarkable enough to make you shine.

And again, Paul has the right words for it: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) It’s a call for all of us non-conformists to step into the Light of God’s Word and let its fiery truth re-make us– be set ablaze ourselves– until suddenly all that old darkness is illuminated and we can see it for what it is. So can everyone else, and it will either draw them into the Light as well, or make them uncomfortable; Paul says don’t let either reaction shock you or sway you… just keep on shining bright. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18) And what great power it is, that wakes up the dead to eternal life!– that takes enemies and makes them beloved children, “that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9) It is not yet completely apparent what we will become, but we can stand firm on God’s promise that “…He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

I imagine that as the angels watch the Creator at work and us shining for His glory, they can’t stop singing for joy.

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…be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 5:18-20

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The world thirsts for a different kind of neighbor—not the kind who deny their fellowman, take up their comforts, and follow their dreams—but the kind who deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Jesus in his mission of loving a weary world to life. The world also thirsts for a new vision for being human, for pursuing and entering friendship, and for leaving things better than we found them.


Scott Sauls

Of Fire and Faith and Precious Things

Almost ten years ago now, John Piper published his very personal and powerful testimony of what God could accomplish through crisis, entitled Don’t Waste Your Cancer. The title was slightly shocking, definitely thought-provoking, but it turns out that a long time ago a Fisherman-turned-preacher was writing the same kinds of things: “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” (1 Peter 1:6) Perhaps more shocking to our modern mindset is Peter’s idea that this experience was everyday normal. “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you,” (1 Peter 4:12). Somehow we cling to the notion that suffering and disappointments are not normal to life…or at least have the idea that they are interruptions to real life, and we should do whatever it takes to resolve them quickly, with as little damage as possible, so we can go back to the pursuit of happiness we are surely entitled to. It sounds as irrational as it is, when you write it out like that. Even more strange is the blithe assumption that bad things are more likely to happen to other people. Really? Odd that we fail to see the illogic in this almost universal misdirection.

And it’s like we have this picture with a number of the puzzle pieces missing, so that the entire image is still a mystery. All we know for sure is that if we have to suffer pain, we want it be meaningful in some way– we don’t want our ordeal to be wasted. Peter says the meaning is found in the promises of God that assure us of who we are and where we are going. He writes to the early believers: “In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.” (1 Peter 1:3-4) God’s promises give us forward-looking perspective on whatever we are facing here along the way, and the point from both these good preachers stands like a beacon: when we find ourselves in the fire, clearly there is more to see than only flames.

Peter says the main purpose of trials is to re-shape our hearts, and goodness knows, mine needs a new shape. Sometimes it seems like my transformation into Jesus’ likeness moves at a snail’s pace, so maybe I should welcome the rough patches, see them for what they are: a crucible, where the circumstances of life combine and interact to create something new in me. I do understand that, how pain and grief make us wrestle with what we actually believe, examine our flawed ideas about who God is. I recognize that stripping away of what Pastor Tim Keller refers to as functional idols— the things we depend on in our everyday life instead of God. I don’t know about you, but I find it incredibly easy to grab onto any solid thing that offers to ease the stress I feel, distract from the hard things I don’t want to face….often without thought for how well it can actually save me. And it’s a tragic irony that so many of the lifelines I can cling to are only holding me stuck where I am– just one more thing to burn. Better to let go, hold out empty hands and fall into the arms of the Savior who stands next to me in the fiery furnace. It is a severe mercy that takes away the things that separate us from the One who loves us more than life.That kind of loss only makes us stronger.

And right there I discover the more personal value of pain. The author of Hebrews encourages his readers with these words: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”(Hebrews 4:15) He has walked the path of suffering Himself, and when we are content to follow Him there, we come to know Him better, understand His heart. When everything else burns away, we can see Him face to face; as we pour out our hearts to Him, we begin to understand that it is His own love that is the consuming fire, for He will not tolerate anything but the best for us. As a wise sister said recently: “Prayer is the weapon we wield that makes everything else we do survive fire.” (Ann VosKamp) And I can hear the Musician-King singing, “You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11) I believe this with my mind, but in following Him through suffering my heart gets to learn to sing along through the tears.

The way to waste pain is to miss the point of it– refuse to let God use it for His good plans. And all of me can get in the way of what He is accomplishing. My pride, my self-sufficiency, my fear and anger and refusal to listen, my running away to anything other than Him. If I can remember that trials are just part of life, and tools in God’s powerful hands, there is not a moment that will be wasted. Lord, give me eyes to see You, ears to hear Your voice, and a teachable heart that does not fear the fire.

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These [trials] have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

1 Peter 1:7

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There’s nowhere I’d rather be,
When You’re singing over me–
I just wanna be here with You.
I’m lost in Your mystery;
I’m found in Your love for me–
I just wanna be here with You


So let all that I am
Be consumed with who You are,
All the glory of Your presence–
What more could I ask for?


With You, Elevation Worship